Is it time we networked more?

Did you participate in Al Gore's Climate Reality Project last week?  I wasn't able to because I was working in Ethiopia (my next post will tell you why), so I’ve been reading up on responses from participants, some of whom have questioned whether he was right to try to use social networks like twitter and facebook to raise knowledge about climate change.

Personally, I think using social media is fantastic, but I also think that sometimes, good old-fashioned face-to-face networking is great.

Two weeks ago, I was sat in a room with 70 other development economists from all over the world. We were in that room to take part in DFID’s annual three-day economists’ conference in London. It was a special conference, as it was the last that our Chief Economist, Alan Winters, would attend in that capacity (NB: Alan will continue his esteemed contributions to economics at the University of Sussex).

DFID's Chief Economist casts a captive spell on his audience. Picture: Sumana Hussain/DFID

The conference included a series of high-level speakers, workshops on key tools that DFID economists use, and lots of case studies to share experiences and challenge ideas. We invited the inspiring Lucy Marcus to give us her lessons on encouraging innovation while managing risks of failure. Justin Lin, the World Bank's Chief Economist (and fellow blogger) also joined us, arguing that economists have wrongly minimised government’s role in the past. I even made a short presentation on green growth to colleagues – which you can find here (please do read the notes).

However, I found the networking in between sessions just as fascinating as the workshops and presentations, because my economist colleagues, from all backgrounds, all asked me the same question: "How does DFID compare to other UK Government departments?"

I told them that best part of being in DFID was exemplified by the room they were in – the fact that DFID invests in knowledge and professionalism. One in three DFID staff has a specialism that is nurtured and cherished, such as economics, evaluation, environment, health care or governance. Other government departments I’ve worked in over the years don’t have anywhere near as strong a knowledge-based culture. This culture doesn’t just make DFID a great place to work; it also makes DFID’s advice hugely respected at home and abroad – as suggested by the Center for Global Development’s ranking of the quality of aid from 31 bilateral and multilateral donors and Action Aid’s new report on “real aid".

The good news is that DFID is starting to network more and more with other government departments, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Some of my colleagues have just worked up a new programme to bring in experts from other UK Government departments to provide on-demand advice on international issues and policies. This could include advice on tax, health and natural resource management, as well as climate change policy – whatever our partner governments most need. My view is that this will not only be good for partner governments – providing them with a wider range of specialists than ever before - but will also be good for DFID, by bringing us closer to UK policy so that we learn about successes and failures in action. 

By networking more closely with other departments and valuing their expertise, perhaps we will even help transfer the knowledge culture that permeates DFID to those other departments. If knowledge is the key to economic growth, as Eric Beinhocker believes (another one of our excellent speakers at the conference), we - along with Al Gore - will surely be taking the right steps.


  1. Geriatric Legions

    At geriatric legions we think you have a great point on networking and social media, it's an approach we're exploring and would encourage older generations especially to participate. It should help shape the views of future generations to keep the old and wise in the conversation.

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  2. Henry Macharia Wanjii

    I am a marketing officer working with a small financial institution in Central Kenya called TAIFA SACCO LTD.My main role is to train existing and potential customer about saving, investments, and credit.My concern is the high rate of illiteracy in the villages . The government have employed very few people who can help bring in education of neglected sectors like agriculture-farming as business, environment, even basic survival skill . Illiterate societies will no t be able to translate global millennium development goals and vision 2030. Consider employing field officer only 47 for all counties in Kenya to speak out the gospel you are preaching of carbon resilient world. I wish you would consider me for a training session with your department representatives in Kenya as trainers trainee and assess how quick your fight for low carbon emission can take effect soon you deploy trainers in the field.

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  3. Rachel Kasumba

    Hannah, thanks. The article reminds us of the importance of face-to-face networking which is quickly being overshadowed by online social networking.

    The internet has reduced the need for travel thereby reducing costs, carbon emissions due to traffic, introduced instant communication, liberalized communication, got us into the 24/7 zone, made the world smaller, increased our knowledge pool, etc.

    Personal one-on-one interactions still yield the best and faster results as they increase trust, a key ingredient in getting both one's point(S) across and actually getting it/them implemented thereafter.

    On a different note, I commend DFID for reaching out to network more closely with other government organization. This approach will definitely reduce the high costs (money and time) associated with duplication and redundancies that exist in a lot of government agencies around the world. With the increase in information, both on and offline, and other complexities of modern life, specialized, open source, and centralized data will assist us all in reducing the amount of stress and related expenses that currently beseech us before we are able to find solutions to our problems/questions.

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  4. Matt

    Although social media has in many ways made networking much more convenient, it has also made networking much more complicated for certain people. Not everyone is tech savvy enough to use the social media outlet as a networking tool. It may be easy for the youngsters but, for the older folks, it can be downright confusing trying to work twitter, facebook, and google plus to your own advantage!

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